Ever since visiting DeMarest Winery back in February and then a few in North Carolina from the summer of 2012, I've been caught in the allure of what American Viticultural Areas outside of the typical hotspots are, why they exhibit the traits and reactions they do, the grapes being used and why it seems counter intuitive that the wine culture east of the Rocky Mountains seems so far behind in recognition since Europeans settled here and began producing wines and ciders since colonial times. So why did it all so suddenly stop and why has it taken so long for areas along the East Coast to reach the level of California or Oregon?
More recently my interest in this topic has grown because about a month or so ago I pitched to my aunt and sister that we visit some wineries up in the Hudson Valley. The only stipulation was that it should be about one hour between either of them (one lives in Mahopac, NY the other in Norwalk, CT and whose ever heard of wineries in Connecticut, not I!). So in an effort to do this right I did my research, found a few wineries that fit the bill, and our trip was laid out. The weather worked with us, the roads were clear and we stopped at lunch at this great all-American food place beside a lake.
We all had a great time but I was preoccupied, I kept wondering how long these wineries had been around, what their history was, why we didn't see them in our local stores or at least the larger markets, what varietals they were working with and the taste preferences' they're aimed at; they're all literally next door but seem relatively unknown, perhaps overshadowed by the Finger Lakes or the North Fork on Long Island? It seemed a bit more complicated than just based on popularity, perhaps stronger marketing exposure was the reason or even the timespan that they've been around?
I found myself at a loss, even when thinking about wines from North Carolina I felt like I was visiting a niche industry that though established hadn't made the impact on a broader market outside the state or even the region; the market is a big place and saturated with hundreds of thousands of wines, but even so it seems crazy that within a days trip you could be drinking wines of that state but not have them in your hometown stores. Perhaps it's unfair to make the comparison to someone living in Madrid, Spain and not having an Albarino on the shelf, but then I don't know the situation there, it just seems like an idea worth mulling over as I continue this blog stream.
One major factor still at work in the USA culturally and legally, as I've been apart of researching compliance in multiple states on the East Coast, is the National Prohibition Act (a.k.a. the Volstead Act, a.k.a Prohibition), which in some respects still dictates how we view and purchase wine from abroad, locally, and between states. I feel like when one starts working in the wine industry -most likely a store or a restaurant- you're exposure is centered on Old World wines with some highlights from New World places like Australia, California, South America and South Africa. I mean, it depends on where you're from and where you find yourself working, but for the most part I think this holds true. Nowadays you'll probably get to taste something from the Finger Lakes AVA or North Fork AVA, but to really get acquainted one has to go out of their way to get a real feel for these wines, their terroir and their history. An Old World cultural bias, plain disinterest, lack of those wines on the shelf or most likely a combination of all three usually seem to dictate if someone picks up let alone appreciates these wines, or leaves them as a sort of novelty while selling you on something more "traditional" -whatever that means, right?
So to do diligence and educate myself on what seems to be a somewhat cloaked history, I've been buying books mostly centered around some aspect of the history of viticulture in the USA, whether it's broadly historical ('A History of Wine in America by Thomas Pinney), about a specific state's viticultural history and its winegrowers (A History of Connecticut Wine by Lehman and Nawrocki and 'Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History' by Regina McCarthy), or literally 'The Geography of Wine' by Brian Sommers which highlights some more East Coast regions, or 'Understanding Vineyard Soils' by Robert White.
It'll take some time to read through all of them but in the course of hunting down samples of wines from the East Coast and Mid-Western AVAs, I'll begin to wrap my head around this experimental history.